The English poet John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island,” in 1624. His belief that all humans are intertwined applies equally well four centuries later in Oregon.
Although Donne wasn’t mentioned by name, his message — in 21st century language, “we’re all in this together” — was an underlying theme of the state economic and revenue forecasts presented to the Legislature on Wednesday.
The message from Oregon’s state economists was dark humor: Oregon’s economy will continue growing, although at a slower pace, unless something happens like war with North Korea.
It was surprising: As Oregon’s population ages, by 2029 more people will be dying than being born in the state. That makes Oregon’s economy increasingly dependent on people moving here from other states.
It was obvious: The issue of housing affordability has spread from urban Oregon into rural areas, and Oregon’s situation is worse than in many states.
It was reassuring: Jobs are increasing in rural Oregon as companies in urban areas confront a lack of workers and an inadequate supply of land for expansion.
And it was ironic: The federal tax reforms making their way through Congress will reduce Oregonians’ federal income taxes. That, in turn, will increase their state income taxes because they have less federal tax to deduct. The state government could gain so much more revenue that it causes the income tax “kicker” to take effect, providing taxpayers with a rebate in two years.
These changes create challenges for employers and communities alike.
For employers, how can they mentally retool their operations to take advantage of Oregon’s aging population, including the retirees moving in from California and other states? The experience and work ethic of older Oregonians make them a valuable commodity — if employers adjust their business operations, such as offering part-time and seasonal work for semi-retirees.
For communities, the challenge will be to integrate these new arrivals into a culture that might seem alien to them. For example, many will be used to paying sales taxes and pumping their own gas. Unaccustomed to “Oregon nice,” some will flaunt their car horns at the slightest irritation. Rain may be perceived as an excuse not to enjoy the outdoors.
Their economic presence is needed to keep the economy growing; otherwise, the economy will retreat and neighborhoods will die.
These new arrivals will adapt and change. And they will change Oregon.